Wellington City’s last department store to be replaced by smaller retailers

The glamorous age of central Wellington department stores has come to an end with the news that Lambton Quay’s David Jones will become a home for a variety of retailers.

According to sources familiar with the plans, building owner Robt. Jones Midland is currently in negotiations with three or four Australian retailers to occupy the ground floor space.

The second floor will be occupied by a variety of smaller retailers, while the top floor will become offices. The company has been approached for comment.

The development after David Jones closed on June 12 will be the final nail in the coffin of Wellington’s department stores – the most venerable of which was Kirkcaldie & Stains, or ‘Kirks’, which David Jones replaced.

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Pukehīnau/Lambton ward councilor Nicola Young was on Oxford St in London recently and said the disappearance of department stores seemed to be an international trend.

“Kirks was a Wellington institution, which David Jones sadly never realized,” she said.

The Kirkcaldie & Stains store at Lambton Quay in Wellington was New Zealand's answer to London's Harrods until it closed.

Thing

The Kirkcaldie & Stains store at Lambton Quay in Wellington was New Zealand’s answer to London’s Harrods until it closed.

“It was glamorous with great service, but it didn’t really suit the tastes of Wellington locals.

“Retail is changing, but Lambton Quay won’t be quite the same. I am optimistic, so I hope this is the start of a new era for this vital monument.

Kirkcaldie & Stains closed in 2016 after 150 years as a landmark on Lambton Quay and, in many ways, had been Wellington’s answer to Harrods in London. It was, until the doorman closed the brass-handled doors for the last time, the place where you did your shopping if you were rich enough. But in the end, financial pressures led to its closure, and glitzy Australian retailer David Jones quickly took its place.

In 1966, crowds witnessed James Smith's famous Christmas parade.

Alexander Turnbull Library / Stuff

In 1966, crowds witnessed James Smith’s famous Christmas parade.

By then, the shop known simply as “Kirks” had survived the department stores DIC, Haywrights and James Smith.

James Smith, which sat on a corner bearing his name at the intersection of Cuba and Manners Streets, was a multi-level store that, for all intents and purposes, sold everything. For a while she even had a plane for sale. At one point, 500 people were working on the 1.5 hectares of workshop land.

The Farmers Building, left, now houses the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the former Deka Building in Cuba St, Wellington

Craig Simcox

The Farmers Building, left, now houses the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the former Deka Building in Cuba St, Wellington

But it closed in 1993 due to declining sales and profitability.

First Retail Group chief executive Chris Wilkinson said the “cookie cutter model” of identical department stores, a la David Jones, was no longer attracting many shoppers.

The surviving department stores in New Zealand – Ballantynes ​​in Christchurch, Smith and Caughey’s in Auckland, and H & J Smith in Invercargill – tended to be family owned and integrated into their communities.

First Retail Group chief executive Chris Wilkinson has fond memories of Kirks but says retail habits have changed for good (file.)

Simon O’Connor / Stuff

First Retail Group chief executive Chris Wilkinson has fond memories of Kirks but says retail habits have changed for good (file.)

“These companies know their community well and have adapted their ranges, offers and experiences as the market and trends evolve.

Wellington was a “city of discovery” where people enjoyed strolling the back streets to their favorite wine bar or browsing the boutiques of Cuba St.

But Wilkinson had fond memories of annual Kirks traditions, like visiting the animatronic “Clucky the Hen” at Easter and Santa at Christmas. The store lost its “magic” several years before closing, he said, as products became more generic and expensive.

“It’s sad that these things don’t happen again, but this kind of change is happening all over the world, and you can’t fight change.”

There will no longer be a central department store like the old Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington

Craig Simcox / Stuff

There will no longer be a central department store like the old Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington

The new David Jones space could be ‘regenerative’ for the city, positioned opposite Midland Park where a new restaurant was in the process of reopening in the old Astoria site.

Deputy National Party leader and Wellington List MP Nicola Willis said the closure of the city’s last department store marked “the end of an era”.

Willis said it was symbolic of the city’s backsliding, making it harder for retailers to operate, with lower foot traffic on Courtenay Place and Lambton Quay.

“We want retailers to continue to choose Wellington, and it’s a feature of the conversations I have that they see signs of a lack of progress.”